What can I do to speed up my moms old Desktop PC?
December 16, 2011 5:25 PM   Subscribe

What can I do to speed up my moms old Desktop PC?

It's a 4-5 year old PC running windows XP. The Specs are nothing thriller, 1 gb ram 300gb HDD ect.

The computer is frequently freezing, Boots up slowly, and applications and web browsers Start up at a crawl. I really don't know what I can do, I'm not even really sure if it has Anti-Virus, although I believe it does. But it has only really slowed in the last year. Is it on it's last leg, or are there steps I can take to speed it up?

I'm debating whether I should buy her a new desktop PC for Christmas, but would like to try a few suggestions before I do.

Thanks! Happy Holidays Mefites.
posted by Snorlax to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Does your mom have her Windows install discs? A brand new installation (back up her data first, obviously), followed by installing Microsoft Security Essentials ASAP, is probably the easiest way to speed it up. If the PC came from a company like HP or Acer you can sometimes call up tech support and ask them to send you some system restore discs.

You might also try opening up the case and cleaning out any dust that is present (dust can get into the CPU's heat sink and cause problems) and defragmenting the hard drive.
posted by fearthehat at 5:38 PM on December 16, 2011

some extra RAM would help a ton. Look up the model on crucial.com, then buy the max that it can hold from Newegg.com .
posted by deezil at 5:46 PM on December 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've found that most of the time a slowdown is due to the system being bogged down with years and years worth of crap. It is rarely a hardware issue (but don't count that out!)

Definitely double check the anti-virus. I'd try downloading a few free programs like Malwarebytes and SuperAntiSpyware to double check for viruses.

Usually for non-in depth cleaning, I use a program called CCleaner to clear out all of the extra temp files that could be cluttering up the system. It can also clean up the registry which can also be a slowdown.

Check to see how much space she has left on her hard drive. If it is more than 80% full consider trying to find things to delete or uninstall. The program WinDirStat is good for this.

If you're comfortable doing in, go the Start menu, choose Run and enter "msconfig" and click OK. Look under the Startup tab and look for unnecessary programs. If you're not sure, Google the names the programs - often the first results will yield a page telling you what it is and if it is necessary.

When everything is done, defrag the hard drive: open My Computer, right-click on the C: drive and choose Properties. Click on the Tools tab and click Defragment now.

This is just a quick and dirty cleaning. The best way is to wipe the machine clean and reinstall Windows from scratch.
posted by charred husk at 5:47 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

A fresh install will speed it up and also help rid it of cruft that's been accumulating over the years. If the computer can handle it (look at the manufacturer's website and see what it say for max RAM), I'd look into getting more RAM for it. It is pretty cheap these days. 32-bit windows won't know what to do with more than 3GB of RAM. But a refreshed install of Windows XP and a GB or two more than she has now will make it seem totally new. Until you actually use a 2011 model year PC.
posted by birdherder at 5:47 PM on December 16, 2011

Agree. Clean Windows install + another 3 GB of RAM if the motherboard has room for it.
posted by drpynchon at 6:35 PM on December 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

If she's only checking email and browsing the web... install some flavor of Linux, like Mint. Fast, virii are much less of a worry, and it uses less resources than WinBlows.
posted by brownrd at 7:49 PM on December 16, 2011

another 3 GB of RAM
I think 32-bit Windows can only use 2 GB max.
posted by anadem at 8:25 PM on December 16, 2011

anadem: it's actually 4 GB of total memory to address, so some gets taken up by things other than the system ram. You can use at least 3 GB though, and ram is so cheap that a 2 x 2GB kit should be fairly cheap.
posted by utsutsu at 8:35 PM on December 16, 2011

Nthing the RAM - make sure you get the right type, though. There are lots of sales for DDR3 right now but that desktop probably runs DDR2.
posted by hot soup at 9:07 PM on December 16, 2011

You don't need to anything but reinstall Windows or some other operating system. The RAM comments don't seem fitting for this question. Another thing to do is run defrag and check disk along with the previous spyware removal things. I just assume that your Mom isn't using this for anything other than surfing, hence no need for hardware improvements.
posted by Odinhead at 10:57 PM on December 16, 2011

Check for and remove AOL.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:39 AM on December 17, 2011

I've supported over 2,000 XP PCs in a business environment, believe me, 1GB of RAM is enough for XP for most purposes.

Basically when your PC runs out of physical memory (RAM) it starts using the hard drive for virtual memory (pagefile.sys). Most of the time she should be comfortably below 1GB usage unless she's doing heavy video or picture editing which requires a bit more room.

Here's a step by step process you can follow to speed up this PC:

1. Remove startup programs or malware that may be affecting performance
- Open Add/Remove programs. Uninstall anything that looks adware-ish (coupon printer, *anything* toolbar, etc). Also remove any security or antivirus suites (especially if Norton or Mcafee...these are sometimes bundled with ISP packages...comcast/verizon for the east coast..and cause major slowdowns) We'll get to putting antivirus back on further down. Reboot after this step.
- Click Start/Run and type "msconfig" Navigate to the "services" tab and click "Hide Microsoft Services" Go through this list and uncheck anything that is not really needed for the PC to run. Things like Java, Apple, Google, and Adobe updaters are fair game as well and don't really need to run at startup. Don't worry, you can re-enable these later if they are needed.
- In MSconfig, also look at the "startup" tab and uncheck pretty much everything unless it is absolutely needed. Most PCs will work fine with an empty startup.
- Download and install Malwarebytes and run a full scan. Remove whatever it detects.
- Download and run HijackThis (2.0.5 beta) and remove any uneeded BHOs. Be especially on the look out for LSP hooks or Appinit hooks. These could be telling of malware. Save backups and reboot after this step.
- Create a restore point (Right-click My Computer and select Properties)
- Download and run TDSSKiller. Even though the PC might not have TDSS, there's a handy option in this utility to check for unsigned drivers (check this checkbox under options on the first screen before scanning) Remove any unsigned drivers when prompted. GMER can be run as well just to be sure there's no rootkits hiding. Reboot when finished.

2. Clean up registry and device manager
- Download and install CCleaner. Run the cleanup routine on the first page to clear out temp and unused files. Next go to the registry cleaner and fix all items it detects. You'll have to run this 3-4 times to catch all items. Keep running the registry clean until it shows up empty.
- Download and install DeviceRemover. Under view, select HIDDEN/DETACHED DEVICES. Select all devices and remove (create a restore point when prompted). Reboot after this step.

3. General followup items
- Install Security Essentials to get a good free anti-virus back on the PC. (there's other free ones out there, this one doesn't nag however). There's also Immunet which is very lightweight and will take up hardly any memory.
- Download and perform a boot optimization using BootVis This is an older XP performance tuning tool which will defrag and fine tune startup services. Impact might be minimal, but still worth trying.
- Install Web of Trust which is a BHO that'll help prevent future infections if she's local administrator by default. (additional security tips in my profile if interested)
- Kick off a full defrag as you're finishing work on this PC.
posted by samsara at 7:53 AM on December 17, 2011 [18 favorites]

Most people are covering the usuals up above but in supporting my own parents' computer I have found the problem to be something else entirely.

The issue is that an infrequently used computer always has to update and run scans almost every single time it is finally run. This causes a brutal slowdown in perceived boot time and program loading because the computer is really really busy typically with the CPU pegged at 100%.

There is not much you can do about this other educate and advise your parents to either manually run scans and updates or to leave their computer on for a while every now and then so it happens anyway. On my own windows PCs I like to use a system monitor called MooO System Monitor because it has options for showing bottlenecks which can be useful for troubleshooting.
posted by srboisvert at 9:10 AM on December 19, 2011

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